Grow Dat Youth Farm

Small Center worked with Grow Dat Youth Farm to incubate a program, and design and build a sustainable 4-acre campus over a few years of hard and fun work. Grow Dat provides job and leadership opportunities to New Orleans youth while also growing and sharing fresh local fruits and vegetables.

Project Dates

January 2009–December 2011


New Orleanians, like many Americans, face an interconnected series of negative health trends related to fresh food access, lifestyle habits, and education. Parallel to food access and affordability issues, the youth of New Orleans lack job opportunities and the income and skills that come with first-time jobs. Furthermore, the few jobs available to New Orleans high school aged students are in the fast food service industry which compounds nutritional issues, and shift times often compromise students’ academic growth. Grow Dat Youth Farm was founded by a former New Orleans high school teacher who was looking to address these dual needs of youth job and leadership opportunities paired with fresh food access and education.

Small Center Engagement

Small Center was the incubator and fiscal home for founder Johanna Gilligan’s program vision. As she formed and fundraised for the program, using Hollygrove Market and Farm as a pilot year growing site, the Small Center team began designing the Youth Farm’s permanent home in New Orleans City Park.

In 2011, two spring semester studios designed a 6,000 square foot urban farming campus and a four-acre farm site plan for organic farming and sophisticated water and soil management. With approvals from the Grow Dat staff, City Park, and State Fire Marshall construction of the campus began. Students from the Tulane School of Architecture built the facility from foundation to finished space in a two semester sequence. Subcontractors were hired for more complex crane operating and electrical work.

In line with Grow Dat’s organizational goals of sustainability, responsibility, and integrity, the campus’ seven repurposed shipping container structures form the structural base for all floors and roofs and spaces on site allowing foundations that do not disturb old growth oak and cypress trees.

All rainfall is sequestered on site, all gray-water is bio-filtered on site, all black-water is composted on site, and the farm/classroom was built largely with recycled and repurposed materials. Additionally, Grow Dat uses a former golf course fairway, rethinking the target users, use, and potential impacts of this shared public park space.

Partner Organization

The mission of Grow Dat is to nurture a diverse group of young leaders through the meaningful work of growing food. On the farm, youth work collaboratively to produce healthy food for local residents and to inspire personal, social, and environmental change in their own communities. Grow Dat Youth Farm is a place where people from different backgrounds and disciplines come together in research and practice to support public health, local economies, and a sustainable food system in South Louisiana.


Since the construction of its City Park facilities, Grow Dat has grown from mentoring 11 students per year to 50 students in 2015. In its first five years, 2010-2015, Grow Dat has grown over 36,000 pounds of food with over 150 young adults. The organization donates 30% of the harvest to a shared harvest while the other 70% is sold at markets and to local restaurants to support the program. Additionally, Grow Dat tracks the personal and academic growth of their students, which can be found in their annual reports.


Grow Dat Youth Farm

  • Johanna Gilligan
  • Leo Gorman
  • Jeanne Firth
  • Jabari Brown

City Park New Orleans

  • John Hopper

Tulane University

  • Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives
  • Office of Community Affairs and Health Policy at the Tulane School of Medicine
  • Tulane Center for Public Service
  • Tulane Freeman School of Business
  • Tulane Levy-Rosenblum Institute for Entrepreneurship
  • Tulane School of Architecture
  • Tulane School of Medicine
  • Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine
  • Tulane School of Social Work
  • Tulane Social Entrepreneurship

Clean Plate Projects

New Orleans Food and Farm Network

Team Members

Project Leads

  • Scott Bernhard (Campus Design Lead, Architect of Record)
  • Dan Etheridge (Coordinator, Project Manager)
  • Abigail Feldman (Site Design Lead)
  • Zach Lamb
  • Emilie Taylor Welty (Construction Manager)
  • Seth Welty
  • Sam Richards


  • Mira Asher
  • Zin Min Aye
  • Steven Baker
  • Hee Cho
  • Sophie Dardant
  • Matt Decotiis
  • Rachel Finkelstein
  • Sean Fisher
  • Patrick Franke
  • Marianne Graffam
  • Seneca Gray
  • Ellen Hailey
  • Katie Healey
  • Natalia Hidalgo
  • Jade Jiambutr
  • Lindsey Kiefer
  • Mike Landry
  • Emile LeJeune
  • Vicky Leung
  • Sam Levin
  • Jason Levy
  • Marda Lugar
  • Mary Beth Luster
  • Jeremy Maloney
  • Rebecca Miller
  • Oren Mitzner
  • Ian O’Cain
  • Ellanny Page
  • Justin Park
  • Robert Pekara
  • Fernando Polo
  • Allison Powell
  • Cameron Ringness
  • Julie Sanders
  • Allison Schiller
  • Justin Siragusa
  • Christopher Tellone
  • Ana Lucia Teran
  • William Trakas
  • Claire Tritschler
  • Erin Vaughn
  • Nichole Woggon
  • Brad Rohman
  • Michael Welsh
  • Jen Wickham


  • Jackson Blalock
  • Maggie Hansen
  • Nick Jenisch
  • Dozenia Marshall


  • Anonymous Donors
  • John and Anne Mullen
  • Maziar Behrooz
  • The Social Entrepreneurship Initiative at Tulane
  • Johnson Controls, Inc

Special Thanks

  • Dr. Mark Bayley
  • James Hardie
  • Walter Zehner
  • ConGlobal Industries
  • Dash Lumber
  • Gaea Engineering Consultants
  • Simpson Strong Ties
  • Yellawood

Press and Awards

Award of Honor

AIA Louisiana Design Awards

Award of Honor

AIA New Orleans Design Awards

SEED Award

Social Economic Environmental Design Network

People’s Choice Award

SEED Structures for Inclusion

Member’s Choice Award

AIA Louisiana Design Awards

Hurricane recovery gave New Orleans reason to band together to offer more healthful food

The Washington Post

Out of Desert Dust, a Miracle on a Shoestring

The New York Times

An Urban Farm Puts New Orleans Teens to Work


The Grow Dat Youth Farm & SEEDocs: Mini-Documentaries on the Power of Public-Interest Design


Dirty South: Youth farms keep New Orleans teens in school gardens


Gonsoulin Cattle Ranch meets Grow Dat Youth Farm at picnic-style party | The Times-Picayune

After Katrina, Tulane's Architecture School Became a Community Builder


Grow Dat Youth Farm at City Park teaches leadership through growing | The Times-Picayune

Grow Dat’s City Park farm yields an Unexpected Crop; Good Jobs for Youth

The Lens NOLA

Best New Architecture; 5 Blueprints to Success

New Orleans Magazine

Grow Dat Youth Farm Nurtures Leaders


Grow Dat Youth Farm nurtures young leaders amid planting | The Times-Picayune